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Sep 19, 2008 10:10 AM

ESCONDIDO Review: Cenote Grill and Big Ernie's BBQ

I'm going to start with the good one: Cenote Grill (1896 W. El Norte Pkwy, Escondido, CA 92026 / 760.740.9911). This is my new favorite Mexican restaurant north of Mission Valley. The Cream of Poblano soup is fantastic; cream based soups are often so heavy but this one is actually . . . refreshing. I don't get more than a cup because I like to order something else, but a bowl and the table chips could certainly be lunch. Their salads are unique and tasty, but be warned: twice I went with friends who ordered the chopped salad and were disappointed to find there was no lettuce in it. Their Tostada is huge - easily enough for two people to share, as are all of their entrees. I've gone several times this month and they have not had a problem giving me a half portion or splitting it for us. They got my husband as a new fan when they asked if he'd like a mtn. dew refill in a to-go cup (it was a particularly hot day)! And, lastly, the guacamole . . . soooooo good. I've yet to see one speck of brown or gooey anything - I'm pretty sure they make it to order, it has nice big chunks of avocado in it, and it is perfectly seasoned. Their hours are weird so call before you go, they close between lunch and dinner. Oh, and did I mention their prices are quite good - maybe comparable to Panera.

Now, for Big Ernies. This was terrible. I was really hoping to get a great BBQ place in Escondido (I work in Pt. Loma and just discovered Phil's - best BBQ in San Diego, especially now that Big Jim's closed), but Big Ernies was AWFUL. I ordered the beef ribs and the meat was NOT falling off the bone, in fact, I could barely rip it off with my teeth. What I could get off the top was dry and I didn't have anything to wet it with because the sauce on the table is way too vinegary to actually eat. The baked beans look like baby poo (though they weren't poo tasting - they just weren't especially good either). The potato salad had lots of different stuff in it (pickles, egg, ect) which I happen to like, but be warned if you don't (their menu doesn't warn you). I don't often give a mean review, and that isn't my intention here. In fact I've been trying to work up the will power to go back and see if maybe they were just having an off night, or if perhaps the pulled pork is better, but I haven't been able to. Not when I know I could spend less and go to Phil's. Did I mention the prices at Big Ernies are not great. They were pricey before we got the food and it was not worth it.

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  1. I'm glad you posted this and saved me from saddening barbeque. Some things about BBQ are regional, but almost everyone expects it to be tender. I've never actually seen anyone there, and it seems to close early. Have you tried Wrangler's across the street behind Sr. Taquito's? That one also has me curious. I've also heard good about Cenote.

    1. Cenote Grill... the name would indicate that it might be a Yucatecan focused restaurant... but the dishes you mention don't sound particularly Yucateco... any idea what is on the rest of the menu?

      1 Reply
      1. re: Eat_Nopal

        I've read the menu a couple of times while jogging by, and I don't remember there being anything yucateco about it. I do remember thinking that it seemed different from other Mexican joints, with a couple tempting ideas (like the poblano soup). I've long kept in mind because I think it might strike a balance between "interesting enough for me" and "tame enough for the less adventurous" when I go out with certain people, but we seem to end up at Hacienda de Vega on those occasions (it's closer). I think I recall friends saying that they enjoyed burritos mojados there, so that tells you something about the rest of the menu. Basically, it's a nicer-than-a-taco-shop sit-down place that caters to the golf course homes and gated communities nearby (it's quite isolated).

      2. Tried Big Ernie's a month or so ago. Had the pulled pork sandwich. The pork was not pulled, just chunks cut up and placed on a bun. But the flavor was decent. Went back later and took home a half slab of ribs and some potato salad. Again the flavor was decent, the ribs were tender, but it set me back almost $20!!! Pretty steep.

        2 Replies
        1. re: ChrisG

          I agree that it's expensive. Our meat was not dry at all, but it tasted solely of smoke and black pepper. I was disappointed to find no flavorful rub beyond TONS of roughly cracked black pepper. I probably won't go back, but mostly because I don't like a single "traditional" side at BBQ joints, and they offered no rice, mac & cheese, bread, etc. to supplement.

          1. re: maestra

            Re: Maestra's comment of Cenote being a balance between interesting and tame enough for non-foodies - that is exactly right. They have the classics (but I think they are better done than most) and then some interesting options. I've had the CORN PUPUSAS (Fresh corn masa stuffed with choice of steak, chicken, pork or cheese. Served with guacamole, sour cream and fresh salsa) and the 3 Sopas (mini masa bowls filled with chicken, carne asada, carnitas, and all the goodies).

            After all that talk about bbq, I'm going to Phil'd bbq for lunch tomorrow!